By Donald R. Pinto, Jr.
In its recent decision in Martin v. Simmons Properties, LLC, 467 Mass. 1 (2014), the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) held that the rule it adopted in its landmark decision in M.P.M. Builders, LLC v. Dwyer, 442 Mass. 87 (2004) – which allows the owner of land burdened by an easement to relocate the easement or change its dimensions – applies to easements appurtenant to registered land. Rejecting a contrary holding of the Appeals Court, the SJC affirmed an underlying Land Court ruling that registered land is not exempt from the “modern rule” of M.P.M. Builders. Martin not only clarifies that M.P.M. Builders applies to registered land, it confirms that, in the wake of M.P.M. Builders, a long line of cases concerning the rights of parties holding easements that are clearly described or are shown on a plan is no longer good law.
Plaintiff Clifford J. Martin (“Martin”) in 1969 purchased about one-third of an acre of registered land in a commercial-industrial district near the Medford-Somerville line. Martin’s parcel – Lot 3A – has the benefit of several easements, including an easement of passage over Way A, which crosses a number of other lots in the area. In 1993, defendant Simmons Properties, LLC (“Simmons”) purchased three of the lots that Way A crosses. Simmons made various improvements on its parcels, and some of those improvements protrude into Way A.
In 2007, Martin sued Simmons in Land Court, alleging 15 acts of encroachment on Way A. Some of these encroachments were initiated by Simmons; others predated its ownership of its lots. While conceding that, to date, none of these encroachments prevented him from using Way A to access Lot 3A, Martin claimed he was entitled to have the encroachments removed so he could use the full width of Way A. After trial, the Land Court ruled that Martin was not entitled to the removal of any encroachments from Way A.
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